News

Peasley Canyon breathing easier

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Local activists were relieved to tears that Peasley Canyon won’t be the next site for a secure community transitional facility for civilly committed sex offenders, but they’re not quite ready to sit back and relax yet.

State Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Dennis Braddock announced Sept. 10 that a two-story, remodeled warehouse at South Spokane Street in Seattle is the most appropriate site for the facility.

“All things considered, this site presents the least amount of risk,” he said at a press conference Wednesday in Olympia.

According to data released by DSHS, the average police response time to the warehouse for priority 1 and 2 calls is under three minutes. The average time for immediate calls at Peasley Canyon was 11.18 minutes. There are fewer property concerns at South Spokane Street, and infrastructure is already available at the warehouse, according to DSHS.

Braddock didn’t preclude the possibility DSHS might consider one of the remaining three sites if closer analysis of the warehouse and industrial property on which it sits reveals the site is unsuitable for some reason, such as hazardous material, for example.

Still, DSHS is not currently pursuing any of the remaining sites — Peasley Canyon, Orillia Road near Seatac and Grouse Ridge Road in North Bend — and Braddock said a preliminary look at the Seattle property didn’t lead DSHS to believe anything might be wrong with it.

As rain fell on the concrete campus outside DSHS headquarters in Olympia Wednesday afternoon, Peasley Canyon residents waited on the bottom floor in a secure section of the building — they weren’t allowed upstairs in the conference room with the press — for word of where the site would be.

Though tears welled in their eyes when they described the relief they felt, they said they would have fought it if Braddock had picked Peasley Canyon, instead.

“We wouldn’t have had a choice,” said Michael Hastings, a member of Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way. “It’s a real relief to know people-power still works.”

DSHS didn’t rank the sites, Braddock said, nor is there a backup site designated. But he said the Peasley Canyon, Seatac and North Bend sites all qualify for a facility based on DSHS criteria.

Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, the attorney representing Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way, disagreed.

According to DSHS data, the nearest risk-potential facility to the Peasley Canyon site is a church located 1,180 feet away. Ward said Peasley Canyon never has qualified for the facility because of a homeschool and playground area across the street.

In June, Ward filed a motion in King County Superior Court asking a judge to decide whether DSHS met its own criteria and, if so, to rule on the constitutionality of excluding home schools from protections offered public and private schools.

Judge Laura Middaugh declined to rule on the case unless Peasley Canyon was picked. Concerned Citizens’ lawsuit will be dismissed since Braddock picked the south Seattle site, but Ward said they’ll hang onto their research for a while all the same.

In the hours after Braddock’s announcement, state Reps. Skip Priest and Mark Miloscia, whose 30th District includes Peasley Canyon and Federal Way, applauded the decision. So did Federal Way Mayor Jeanne Burbidge and King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, who called Braddock’s decision “a vindication of the efforts of the entire community surrounding the Peasley Canyon location.”

Seattle officials issued bitter responses to the announcement, and yhe city attorney and human services director met Wednesday afternoon, though officials wouldn’t confirm if Seattle was planning to file a lawsuit.

Mayor Greg Nickels said he was “deeply disappointed with the state’s decision to locate its facility for violent sexual predators in our city,” adding, “DSHS has acted like a fast train on the wrong track.”

Braddock said the process of choosing a location to build the facility wasn’t easy for anyone, but it was particularly difficult for the residents of the communities tapped as potential sites.

DSHS began the process of siting a transitional home for convicted sex offenders last year, when the Legislature and U.S. District Court ordered the agency to provide a less-restrictive, off-island home for sex offenders who undergo treatment and become eligible for transition back into society. They’re now housed on McNeil Island,

Because the state delayed so long in starting the process, the court imposed a fine that has to date exceeded $8 million.

After Peasley Canyon was announced as a possibility last December, residents living there and in nearby Federal Way and Auburn actively opposed it, forming Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way, raising money and filing a lawsuit.

DSHS will appear again in court in October, and Braddock said he hopes the announcement of a site will have “a salubrious impact” on the status of DSHS’ fine.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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